Monday, October 22, 2007

Epicurean joy II

It's nice to get comments on my blog, particularly when they are clever. In response to my musing last time, Eric Brown writes:

"I am puzzled about joy and katastematic pleasure, too, and so I'm glad you're putting this out there.

I'm not sure I understand your argument against Purinton's interpretation. Do you mean to attribute the following to Epicurus?

(1) Nonhuman animals experience katastematic pleasure.
(2) Nonhuman animals do not experience epilogismos.
Therefore, (3) epilogismos cannot be necessary for the experience of katastematic pleasure.
But (4) one can take joy in katastematic pleasure only by experiencing epilogismos about the settled state of the flesh.
Therefore, (5) joy cannot be necessary for the experience of katastematic pleasure.
Therefore, (6) katastematic pleasure cannot be defined as the intentional object of joy.

What's the evidence for (1)? I've no doubt that nonhuman animals experience the calm state of the flesh that we experience as katastematic pleasure, at least according to the Epicureans, but I cannot recall off the top of my head any evidence that Epicureans take nonhuman animals to experience this state as pleasure. (Indeed, isn't this part of Cicero's complaint--that the appeal to infant and animal pursuit of pleasure appeals to their pursuit of kinetic and not katastematic pleasure?) What am I forgetting?"

I had to think this over for quite a while, but this is as far as I have got:

I don’t think Eric is forgetting anything, and he makes a very good argument. So what can we say about (1)? I wonder if it will help to distinguish between the two types of katastematic pleasure: bodily (aponia) and psychic (ataraxia).

The Epicureans’ account of the hedonic lives of non-rational animals is not very clear. I can see no way, however, in which they could deny that non-rational animals can attain aponia. That is, it seems perfectly possible for a cat, say, to attain a state of physical painlessness. If that is true, I don’t see how the cat is not experiencing at least this form of katastematic pleasure. What a cat cannot do, however, is reflect upon and notice this state and cannot consider and reflect upon its likely continuance. (There are other drawbacks to being a cat. A cat can’t look at another cat with a bad paw and think, ‘How nice I don’t feel that pain’ in the way Lucretius imagines a human onlooker thinking at the beginning of DRN 2; that, by the way, looks to me like a good example of an instance of ‘joy’.) So a cat cannot experience ‘joy’. If that’s on the right lines then if we substitute aponia for ‘katastematic pleasure’ in Eric’s construal of the argument, it seems to me to be OK.

Now what about ataraxia? I suppose the Epicureans won’t want to let cats have that. But, on the other hand, the Epicureans are certainly concerned not to make it seem that a cat is better off than a human precisely because it can never experience mental pains, tarachai. (This looks like the mental analogue of the criticism – at least as old as Callicles in the Gorgias – that to say that we should aim at painlessness is to say that we should want to be like a stone, that is simply incapable of feeling pain.) What they say in response is not so clear but seems to be in two parts: (i) animals can, at least to some extent, experience tarachai; (ii) animals cannot – as humans can – reason away irrational fears and in addition take further pleasure in recognizing their care-free state. What evidence I have found about this is in Philodemus On the gods 1 XV and Polystratus De Irrat. Cont. VI–VII.

This leaves as yet unconsidered whether katastematic pleasure of either sort feels pleasant by itself, as it were. I think Purinton argues that it is rather ‘joy’ which ensures the positive hedonic feel of a good life, which is why he thinks an Epicurean would not want a life of joyless katastematic pleasure. I’m not so sure; or, at least, I am not sure that the Epicureans either do or ought to take this route. It seems to me more likely that they do indeed want to insist that katastematic pleasure is itself pleasant: living a (physical) life without pain is pleasant and living a (mental) life without care is also pleasant. Joy is certainly, however, something distinct from katastematic pleasure. But it seems to me that joy is not necessary for the katastematic pleasure’s having any positive hedonic value. I can see no evidence for that point and the evidence I can find seems to point rather towards the characterisation of joy I tried in the previous post. Now, whether this is coherent, let alone plausible, is another matter. At the moment I can’t help being on Cicero’s side here. But that’s the Epicureans’ fault, not the fault of Cicero’s interpretation.

No comments: